Most people who know Tove Jansson’s wonderful Moomin books have come across the eight books starting with Comet in Moominland (1946) and ending with Moominvalley in November (1970), a smaller number of people will have seen the five picture books for younger readers (1952 – 1993) only four of which have been translated into English and which will probably be featured in a blog on here sometime next year. Fewer still will have seen the long running cartoon strip which I covered in a previous blog. And then there is the subject of today’s post.
The Moomins and the Great Flood has a very odd history it began life in 1939 at the start of WWII when twenty five year old Swedish speaking, Finnish born artist Tove Jansson, faced with a lack of inspiration for her work decided to try writing something. As she herself said in 1991
It was the winter of war, in 1939. One’s work stood still; it felt completely pointless to try to create pictures.
Perhaps it was understandable that I suddenly felt an urge to write down something that was to begin with “Once Upon a Time.”
Inspiration didn’t really strike with the written word either and the part written story was put away to be largely forgotten until she showed it to a friend in 1945 who encouraged Tove to finish it as a children’s book and do some illustrations to see if it would sell. The original title in Swedish is Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen or Small trolls and the Great Flood and although the following eight books became hugely popular all over the world from the 1950’s and have spawned a massive merchandising industry this first appearance was rather neglected. The book was out of print for a long time and did not get translated until 2005 when a limited edition copy was produced in English for the 60th anniversary of it’s first publication. This translation however was printed in Finland and was not widely available outside that country, the edition I have is printed by Sort Of Books in 2012 and is the first copy that is easy to obtain.
So why was this book missed out when the others took off, well the first thing you notice is that it doesn’t seem to be very consistent with the others, this is clearly Tove finding her way with the characters. Here the Moomins are absolutely tiny as can be seen in the picture above where Moominmamma and Moomintroll encounter Sniff for the first time, although he is never named in this book being referred to as ‘the little creature’ throughout. The flower that Moominmamma is holding is far bigger than she is, now it has to be said that nowhere in any of the other books is a size given for Moomins but I was really surprised to see this picture as in the later illustrations Moomins and the other characters are normally interacting with things that are to the same scale as themselves so I had never thought about how tall they are before. A later picture in this book shows Moomintroll riding on a stork looking for survivors of the flood
and this also shows him as very small. The other difference is the lack of recognisable characters, apart from Moominpappa who only makes an appearance at the end only Sniff, Moomintroll and Moominmamma and the Hattifatteners are ones we know, no Snork Maiden, Snufkin, Hemulen etc. all these wouldn’t appear until Comet in Moominland.
The back story given in this book that Moomins lived with House Trolls in peoples homes and would be behind the tall stoves that used to be so common in Scandinavia and they didn’t like central heating as there was no nice warm place to hide.
“Did the people know we were there?” asked Moomintroll
“Some did,” said his mother “They felt us mostly as a cold draught on the back of their necks sometimes – when they were alone”
As far as I can remember this is the only time an interaction with humans is mentioned in any of the books. Ultimately after numerous adventures they find Moominpappa although he has lost the house that he built as it was washed away in the floods only to find it again in a different place that became Moominvalley. The house is shaped like an old stove as a memory of the way Moomins used to live and the next book continues the story from this point.
It’s a pity that although the book is now available in English as well as the original Swedish that there don’t appear to be other translations yet so the worldwide Moomin fans are still largely unaware of how the Moomins started, the full page pictures are beautiful and so unlike any of the books to come after this and deserve to be appreciated everywhere.